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  • Writer's pictureTeam Backcountry

How Well Do You Know a Horse?

Updated: Feb 28, 2020

If you think the first step to horseback riding is hopping the saddle, think again. Backcountry's Equine Coordinator, Carly Steiger, gives expert tips on horsemanship.

I have never experienced an animal that reads and reacts to our body language like horses do. Horses can feel our nerves, our happiness, our sadness ... they tend to mirror our emotions. We can greatly impact these animals—both positively and negatively—while standing on the ground as well as riding.  Learning and constantly improving our horsemanship skills are the foundation of fun, safe experiences with horses.

Start with a Basic Hello

When learning to ride, the first step is not riding; it is building a relationship. This practice is called horsemanship, and it's just that—a practice. Riders must start by observing and learning how to read a horse's body language.

Take a Deep Breath and Smile

Horses are amazing to be around, right?! When we naturally feel happy and confident around them, they will instinctively start to trust us/relax around us.

What if I Feel Nervous?

That is totally okay and VERY normal! Start by simply taking a few deep breaths; it’ll help you both relax. Horses are amazing teachers! They make us be mindful of our body language in all situations.

Look At and Listen To Yourself

Whether it’s positive or negative in your eyes, remember that every situation with a horse is a teachable moment!

One of my horses, Hendrix, typically comes to me when I go to catch him in the pasture. It makes me feel great and accomplished! I have been spending tons of time with him and our bond is always improving. But, sometimes when I go to catch him, he walks the opposite direction. The first things I need to ask myself are:

What is my body language like? Am I feeling frustrated that day? Have I been slacking on the bonding time that week and just focusing on the riding?

Horseback riding doesn’t start and stop with a trail ride on vacation. It starts with loving and caring about the animal, and understanding why horsemanship is probably more important than riding. And if you’re like me, learning about horses never stops.


Want to start building your horsemanship skills and discovering how to communicate with horses, check out our year-around Horsemanship Classes at the Backcountry Horse Corrals. Find information on all of our other horse programs here.

Carly Steiger is the equine coordinator for the Backcountry Wilderness Area. Carly moved to Colorado in 2015, and is an avid animal and outdoors lover. When she’s not hiking or snowboarding, you can find her caring for her tribe of rescue animals.

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